My name is Santos Castaneda and I am a warehouse worker in Chino, CA. I unload containers full of shoes shipped from China, and load them into trailers that carry them to your local Walmart store. I have worked here for three years at minimum wage through a staffing agency in hot, dangerous conditions.
Wednesday, I spoke at the California Assembly Labor committee hearing in support of AB 1855, a bill that would change the labor code to force employers in the warehouse industry that use subcontractors take responsibility for the conditions they create. Assemblymember Norma Torres of Pomona introduced this bill because she was struck by the fact that these warehouse employers are acting so irresponsibly in her district. The California Labor Federation prioritized the legislation because the warehouse industry is so important to our state- more than 200,000 Californians work in this industry, and these are jobs crucial to our economic recovery.
If the bill passes, warehouse companies and retailers will no longer be able to set low standards with tight contracts and then hide behind staffing agencies when labor law violations are found. AB 1855 was approved Wednesday, and we are moving forward for better conditions in the industry.
In the last year, I have gone from watching the problems at my warehouse and not knowing how to make change, to speaking up about the problems to my employer and Cal/OSHA. I have been fired for standing up for my rights for a safe workplace. I have learned the power of solidarity as workers stood up to support me and I got my job back. I have fought retaliation and demotion, and been vindicated by the state citing my employer and forcing them to change their health and safety conditions.
I have met workers from other Walmart contract warehouses in the area and their experiences are not different from mine. These workers have stood up against Walmart and its contractors for the poor conditions and wages stolen from them over years of hard work, unloading thousands of boxes per hour for less than minimum wage.
I have met Walmart associates who work in the stores – workers who unload the goods I put into containers – and are raising their voices for better conditions at their stores. Walmart is responsible for creating conditions of poverty and exploitation in the warehouses and distribution centers that serve them in Southern California. By setting low standards, Walmart and other retailers get away with theft from tens of thousands of workers in California. Of all companies, Walmart, the biggest company in the world, can afford to do better.